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Zion Williamson will play for Pelicans in opener

Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson

ORLANDO, FL - JULY 14: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans smiles during practice as part of the NBA Restart 2020 on July 14, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

It will be limited minutes in short bursts, but it’s happening.

Zion Williamson will play for the New Orleans Pelicans in their opener against the Utah Jazz on Thursday. Williamson and the team decided after he went through warmups. The Pelicans announced it this way:

Chris Haynes of TNT/Yahoo had details.

Zion averaged 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds a game in the 19 games he played, but his impact went beyond the raw numbers. The Pelicans outscored their opponents by 13.9 points per 100 possessions when Zion was on the court because his gravity to draw defenders when he drove the rim opened up everything for New Orleans.

Zion had been excused from the NBA’s restart bubble to tend to a family medical situation, but returned in time to go through a four-day quarantine, two practices, and be ready to play in the opener.

The Pelicans, playing in the first game of the restart, are 3.5 games back of the eighth-seed Grizzlies. New Orleans, Portland, and shorthanded Sacramento were all tied and are in a race to win the ninth seed, finish within four games of Memphis, and force a two-game play-in series. The Pelicans have no margin for error with just eight seeding games, so having Zion back — even for “short bursts” — is a massive help.